Memorandum of Conversation, by the Under Secretary of State (Welles)

The Ambassador of Panama called to see me today to make his first visit upon me since his arrival in Washington. I greeted the Ambassador very cordially and told him that I knew well of his brilliant professional career and of the magnificent surgical work which he had undertaken at the hospital in Panama.

The Ambassador commenced the interview by requesting the services of certain technicians, which question is dealt with in a separate memorandum.13

I inquired of the Ambassador whether he had any recent information as to the status of the negotiations between the representatives of this Government and the Panamanian Government for the acquisition of sites outside of the Canal Zone to be utilized for defense purposes by the Canal authorities. The Ambassador said that he understood that progress had been made but that certain basic questions still remained to be settled and he thereupon requested that I arrange for the President to receive him in order that he might take up some of these problems with the President14 by instruction of President Arias.

I replied to the Ambassador that I would be very glad to communicate his request to the White House and that I would let him know when a reply was received. I then asked the Ambassador what these basic difficulties might be. The Ambassador replied that the Government of Panama desired to obtain more tangible and greater benefits for the people of Panama in return for the additional defense sites which would be granted in Panamanian territory than the mere compensation for the lands taken over. The Ambassador said that public opinion in Panama did not favor the granting of these additional sites if Panama did not really benefit therefrom. He said that the Government of Panama fully recognized its obligation under the treaty of 1936 to agree with the Government of the United States upon the granting in Panamanian territory of any additional sites required for the defense of the Canal, but that it could not agree to [Page 420] grant these additional sites, which he claimed were seventy-seven in number, for a period of ninety-nine years. He said that the Republic of Panama was small in extent but the location of these sites comprised the entire territory of the Republic and would result in making Panama an armed camp for a century unless the term for which these sites were granted were to last solely for the period of the emergency. I replied to this that the Ambassador stated precisely my own belief, namely, that the two countries were bound as partners to take all measures which might be necessary for the proper defense of the Canal and that these additional defense sites now under contemplation were, of course, only to be requested so long as the defense of the Canal made their taking over necessary. I said that it would seem to me that the Government of Panama must recognize, as did this Government, that inventions in modern warfare made necessary types of defense which had not previously been contemplated and that, consequently, it was impossible to predict whether some of these desired sites would have to be retained for an indeterminate period or whether all could be turned back to Panamanian occupation immediately after the present international conflagration had been extinguished.

The Ambassador seemed to agree with this statement of principle and reiterated the desire of Panama to cooperate in every possible way for the defense of the Canal.

I then inquired of the Ambassador what the tangible and material advantages, which the Ambassador had stated should accrue to Panama, might be. The Ambassador then mentioned the construction of a tunnel under the Canal to relieve the congestion of traffic between one side of the Republic and the other; the donation of the Panama Railway lots to the Panamanian Government; the removal of the railroad station in Panama City to a site which would not impede the improvement of the capital; and the immediate relinquishment of the aqueduct and waterworks to the Government of Panama.

Certain of these desiderata were discussed in some slight detail and I then said to the Ambassador that in order to save time in the consideration of these proposals, it would be well for the Ambassador to send me in memorandum form the list of these requests of his Government. The Ambassador said that he would send me such a memorandum at the earliest possible moment.

Before he left the Ambassador again stated that President Arias was sincerely desirous of working in the closest harmony and cooperation with the United States and that if such were not the case, the Ambassador would not have relinquished his flourishing practice in Panama in order to accept the mission as Ambassador in Washington. Dr. Brin declared that this Government could count on the most loyal [Page 421] cooperation of the people of Panama and the present Government of Panama and that the Panamanian Government fully recognized its obligations as one of the American family of nations.

S[umner] W[elles]
  1. Not printed.
  2. See memorandum of February 18, p. 430.